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If you're a leader in the foodservice or restaurant industry, you know that—twice a year—health code inspectors show up when you're least prepared. If you never truly know when they're going to knock at your door, you need to ensure that your facility is up to snuff. So, read on to learn tips and insights on how to prepare for a health inspection, common health code violations and ways to avoid costly fines and penalties.

Read each section or jump to the topic that interests you most:

The FDA's Five Most Common Health Code Violations (and How to Avoid Them)

Common Violations

FDA findings have shown that there's five violations that occur most often during health inspections. So, use this list as a general guide to prepare ahead for what health inspectors most commonly look for. If you struggle to maintain compliance, we've provided product solutions next to each violation that may be able to help.

Most Common Health Code Violations

  1. Improper Temperature and Time Control
    Serving food at safe temperatures, including everything from hot and cold foods, to raw and cooked foods.

    Product(s) that increase health inspection score:
    Food thermometers

  2. Cross-Contamination
    The transfer of bacteria from one food to another. The worst-case scenario is causing food poisoning, illness or even death. Learn more on cross-contamination here.

    Product(s) that increase health inspection score:
    Color-coded kitchen tools

  3. Sanitation Violations
    Don't get it confused—sanitation violations can occur without cross-contamination. Violation examples include: soda dispensers not being cleaned, improperly stored raw meats, dirty cutting boards, etc.

    Product(s) that increase health inspection score:
    Mops
    Storage containers

  4. Hand Washing
    CDC findings show that food handlers' unwashed hands are the most common means of transmitting bacteria and viruses to foods.

    Product(s) that increase health inspection score:
    Hand soaps
    Portable sinks

  5. Pest Infestation
    Pest problems all start when your storage options aren't working well enough. Pests flock to meats, vegetables, and other foods that are exposed and not properly stored.

    Product(s) that increase health inspection score:
    Insect Control Products
    Storage Bins

Five Ways to Prepare Ahead for Your Health Inspection

Prepare for Your Inspection

Having your foodservice establishment in tip-top shape takes diligence, dedication, and a little bit of elbow grease. By following these five steps, you can be prepared (and confident!) for whenever a health inspector comes knocking at your door.

The five steps we recommend to prepare ahead are:

  1. Utilize the HACCP Plan (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points)
    Here's the main match-up in health inspections: you vs. germs. You've basically been given the playbook from the team you're up against—why not take a look? The HACCP Plan lays out cooking timelines and identifies when the risk of contamination is the greatest. Once you're able to identify these dangers in your everyday cooking procedures, you're able to prevent contamination. As a health inspector's main goal is to decrease germs in your business, this is a crucial place to start.

    Food temperature requirements mean you need the proper tools—start here

  2. Consult your local health department
    Why not start at to the source, the inspectors themselves? Find out their exact criteria so you know which areas matter the most to them, and which areas in your business to improve.
  3. Get educated
    Once you're up-to-speed on steps one and two, cover the rest of your bases by learning the rest of the health code violations for your state.

  4. Practice makes perfect: conduct random inspections
    Just as health inspectors stop by unannounced, it's best to have your employees always on their toes by conducting random inspections yourself. Giving feedback when you're done will also help familiarize them with what you're looking for.

  5. Keep up to date
    Times change, and rules change with it. Make sure you and your staff are up to date on the latest violations and codes to ensure you never receive a bad score.

Commonly Checked Areas During a Health Inspection

Routine Maintenance

As a health inspector's main objective is to stop foodborne illness from starting, there's a few key areas they'll most likely always look at.

  • Sinks and Handwashing Stations
    They'll make sure correct washing methods are in place

  • Food-Handling Areas
    They're checking that your food is coming from an approved source

  • Ovens & Refrigerators
    They want to observe that your cooked foods are properly cooked and stored.

    Is your fridge not working like it used to? Don't let spoiling food knock down your score. Find a new refrigerator

  • Dishwashers
    They're checking this equipment to make sure they contain proper sanitizer concentration

  • Kitchen Surfaces
    They're verifying that there has been no cross-contamination

Health Inspection Grading Scale: FAQ's

Grading Scale

Q: How are health inspections graded?

A: Depending on your state, there's two ways: either a point-based or letter-based system.

Point System
Letter Grade System

Score

90 or higher

80-89

70-79
 

69 or below

Condition

Good

Adequate

Needs Improvement

Poor

Grade

A

B

C

Condition

Good

Adequate

Needs Improvement

To improve your score, a good place to start is knowing your state's particular food service codes and regulations. Want to see yours? Start here.

Q: Are there different types of health inspections?

A: Yes! There are three:

  1. A routine health inspection
  2. A follow-up (typically to resolve past violations)
  3. And an inspection that was started by consumer complaints

If you've had a recent consumer complaint about food poisoning (it happens more frequently than you think!) we have some advice for you to follow on next steps.

Q: I received a low score—now what?

A: In most cases, your business will be given the chance to fix issues causing your poor score and a follow-up visit will be scheduled by the health inspector. This will usually happen within five to thirty days after receiving your score.

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